I first met Raf Kiss a couple years ago at a social event in Leme in Rio de Janeiro. I remember being very impressed with his personal story and his dedication to living a good life. Working in the finance industry in Belgium for many years and raising a family there, he eventually decided to make a major life change about six or seven years ago. So he sold all his possessions, moved to Brazil, and married a local girl. In short, he did the type of thing that most guys can only dream about.
But it was more than that. He’s a fearless traveller to some very remote and difficult regions in Brazil, a country that is not exactly known for the convenience and comfort of its internal road system. Some of the stories he told me about his motorcycle trips around Brazil fired my imagination, and I spent some time later reading the articles on his websites Brazil Road Trips and AngloInfo Rio de Janeiro. I haven’t met anyone—Brazilian or other nationality—who has travelled as extensively or as arduously in Brazil as he has, often at significant personal risk, and I would urge anyone with an interest in adventure travel to take a look at some of the articles on his blog. He’s given me some valuable travel tips that have paid off immensely in my own explorations in the country.
A few days ago, I noticed that Raf had mentioned on his Twitter feed that he had been robbed while biking around Rio. Anticipating this would make for an interesting story to our curious ROK readership, I suggested to him the idea of an interview. What follows below are my questions to him and his responses.
Quintus. You said you were assaulted at gunpoint, right? What happened?
Raf: Well, on Tuesday, December the 17th, I was on my way from Volta Redonda to Rio de Janeiro, a routine trip since I’ve done it hundreds of times over the past 5 years. I had a problem with my car and my mechanic hadn’t been able to fix it by the time I had to leave for Rio, so I had to go by motorcycle.
By the time I reached Nova Iguaçu, in Rio’s infamous Zona Norte, it had started raining and I needed to stop to put on my raingear. I’m aware of the risks in that area, so I was looking out for a gas station. But as it was raining and there was very poor lighting, I missed the exit for the first gas station. So I decided to pull over at the first bus stop, which was the next place with a little more light.
While I was struggling to get the pants on, I hadn’t noticed that a small motorbike with two guys had stopped next to me. The first thing I noticed was someone talking to me. When I looked up I was still not aware of the assault… until I saw the gun.
He was saying something in the line of: “Don’t even think of trying something…Perdeu (you lost)… don’t look at me… Where is the money…”
I slowly took my wallet out of my side pocket and he told me to give it to him. I managed to take the money out and only give him that, holding onto my bank cards and documents, which would be a serious pain to lose. They got about 150 USD worth, which I think is a small price.
Quintus: What was going through your mind at the time?
Raf: Worst case scenario: this guy is going to take my bike with everything on it–my luggage with my computer, tablet, and everything else I use to work in Rio–and maybe even shoot me. It was pretty scary.
Quintus: Did you report it to the police? Would it have done any good?
Raf: After finishing putting on the raingear, I continued on my way and stopped at a small PM (Polícia Militar) post, where I told them that I had been assaulted and robbed, but I didn’t file a formal complaint. As you suggest, it would not have made a lot of difference.
Quintus: The police later impounded your bike, right? How did that happen?
Raf: This happened a few days after the assault. I found myself going the wrong way on a one way street (it was dark and not clearly marked). The PM stopped me, and since I had an expired document, the bike got impounded.
The driver of the tow truck gave me a form and told me that I had to make sure I didn’t have outstanding tickets and should go to DETRAN (transit department) with this form to get the bike back. He didn’t say anything about the list of about 6 other documents that I needed to make copies of (one of them authenticated). I discovered that on my own the next day. I was able to get the copies, even if it was the weekend before Christmas and it was very hard to find a copy (or Xerox) place open.
I also checked the DETRAN website for outstanding tickets, so I would be able to pay them before going there, but nothing came up, so the next day I went there to recover the bike.
Of course, the first thing the DETRAN guy tells me is that I have an outstanding ticket. He gives me a paper with the details AND a little piece of paper with the list of copies I needed. Of course, those I already had. But…the little piece of paper says I need TWO copies of everything.
To pay the ticket, you have to go to another place in the same building to print out the “boleto” (document with a bank code) which you then have to take to a Bradesco bank and pay. Of course, they have no information about where the nearest Bradesco agency is. Also, once you have done the payment at Bradesco, it takes about 2 – 3 hours for the payment to hit the account of DETRAN, so I already knew that it would ruin my chances of getting everything done AND get to the depo lot in Campo Grande about 50 Km away.
So, I went to pay the ticket, and then it was off to look for another copy place to make the second copy of the documents I already made copies of the day before. Funny about this is that at the place to print the boleto ( the bank agency and the copy place) you will find the same people going through the same process as you. So in a way it feels as if you’re in an episode of “The Amazing Race.”
Having paid the ticket, and armed with the necessary copies, I went back to DETRAN a few hours later and the guy said the payment didn’t come in yet. The only thing you can do at that point is to get back at the end of the line and do this over and over until the guy finally says that your payment came in. That’s when you get to go and wait in another line to be attended. After being attended (basically giving the bunch of documents to a servant) they tell you to go to another place and wait until your name is called.
After another 30 minute wait I finally got the document that said I had no outstanding debt at DETRAN. Then they tell you to go to DETRO (Department of Rodoviárias) at ANOTHER ADDRESS with this document and there you will get the document that will liberate your vehicle.
At DETRO, it was again the same group of people waiting outside the building. You have to get a number at the reception and the receptionist gives you ANOTHER LIST OF COPIES… one of them authenticated.
She also told me I couldn’t get into the building wearing a Bermuda [shorts], so on top of finding a copy place and a cartório, I also needed to go and buy myself a pair of long pants.
At that point you start to realize that your chance of making it to the depo place the same day is becoming very small, but you go on against all odds.
Long story short, I arrived at the place in Campo Grande at 17:05… 5 minutes too late. The worst thing was that a friend of mine and my father in law had travelled about 120 km to get there and take my bike to drive it back to my home (since I didn’t have a driver’s license), so I didn’t only ruin my own day, but also that of two other people.
The next day I went back to the depo with my father in law and was able to get the bike out and drove it back home myself – without a license, again after a similar process of copies and a payment that had to be done.
Quintus: What did this incident teach you about the Brazilian bureaucracy?
Raf: Brazilian bureaucracy is legendary, but in this case it feels like everything is set up to harass people as much as possible and to slow down the process so that many people will not be able to complete the whole process in one day and have to leave their vehicle in the depo for one or more extra days, which means more money for the government.
Quintus: What originally prompted you to move to Brazil?
Raf: After a pretty normal “rat race” type of life (20 years of marriage, raising two kids, venture capital job), I got divorced and from then on I started feeling a growing urge to do something completely different. After contemplating a move to Ghana in Africa, I finally decided to try my luck in Brazil, where I became a licensed tour guide and started a motorcycle travel company. This didn’t turn out the way it should have, so now I’m focusing more on hiking, trekking and climbing in and around Rio de Janeiro.
Quintus: What would you say is your basic philosophy of life?
Raf: My general impression is that most people are too busy gathering financial wealth, thinking that this what is going to make them happy. The Dalai Lama couldn’t have said it better: “man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. He is so anxious about the future that he doesn’t enjoy the present, the result being that he doesn’t live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die and then he dies having never really lived.”
My philosophy in life is to try and do the things I like to do without hurting others in the process and staying as far away as I can from politics and religion.
Quintus: What advice would you give younger guys just starting out?
Raf: These are my five basic points:
1. Make your health your first priority. Eat healthy and exercise. You’ll look good for a lot longer and you’ll be able to enjoy a lot more offbeat experiences.
2. Learn to play an instrument. Music is the only universal language. It’s a great way to meet people and your instrument will always be there to cheer you up after a bad experience.
3. Keep learning. You will never be too smart, and never know enough.
4. Respect other people, even if they don’t share you ideas.
5. Stay away from any kind of drugs.
Quintus: Thanks for talking to our ROK readers, Raf.
Raf: No problem, man.
My interview with Raf gave me much in the way of food for thought. It reminded me of one of the best benefits of travel: the chance encounters with people who can become sources of sustained friendship and worldly wisdom.
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